HEY KULDIP, CAN I HAVE A WORD? – ‘Let us sit down and talk’


Xari Jalil
Kuldip Nayar’s first impression is that of a friendly man, somewhat absent minded, and maybe slightly impatient to get things organised around him as soon as possible. He is a well-built man of Punjabi descent (Sialkot to be specific), very sturdy for a man in his late eighties (he was born in 1923); wisdom and experience are stamped onto his face and eyes, which in their brilliance can only be superficially ‘hidden’ behind thick black rimmed glasses, and a kindly smile that immediately discloses that he is not an intellectual snob.
He is wearing a dark blue kurta with a white shalwar, which are slept in and crumpled, but this does not perturb Nayar. Instead, he jumps into fluid Punjabi and questions the photographer how he should sit in order to be photographed. He is told that he should sit in whichever position he feels will show his personality the best. At this he laughs heartily, and one can see the crow’s feet in the corner of his eyes, as they crinkle up in laughter…
Nayar was in Pakistan for an Indian delegation, accompanied by some other Indian peace activists, including the renowned filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. He has held peace talks in Karachi and Lahore where he has discussed with the audience the Indo-Pak peace relations. Now his visit is over and he is getting ready to pack and leave. Consequently, his room has become a disaster zone. There are newspapers spread all over the place. His bed is unmade. A huge carton of Pakistani textbooks are being taken by him back to India, so that he can study the false history taught to students here. Even his suitcase lies, with his mouth gaping wide, spilling out his personal belongings onto the carpet.
Nayar begins by sharing his experience of revisiting Pakistan after almost a decade…
“I went to Karachi first and it was unfortunate that the state of affairs in that city were not too great, but despite that I saw that people came to listen and I was impressed by their willingness and their desire to extend the hand of friendship towards India,” he says. “You see, there is no alternative to peace. You must eventually sit across the table and discuss things.”
In Pakistan, however, the belief in the two-nation theory is still strongly prevalent. This is something that continually urges the Pakistani Muslims to feel that they are different and are ‘born’ as another nation, which has subsequently affected the youth who are born and bred in Pakistan too, and has increased dislike and bias towards Indians in general.
But Nayar denies that this is an issue…
“There are all sorts of people, and there will always be people who will think like this, but these will remain a minority,” he says. “These people will not want India and Pakistan to be one and will always cause problems using their personal bias. But the majority of the people on both sides, without any doubt, want peaceful relations.”
This is especially true among people of large and influential cities like Karachi and Lahore, who have extended families on the other side of the border and wish to be able to meet them. Many others simply desire to travel to India and back without facing any problems and yet others who are against the concept of curbing freedom like this, especially in connection to a land part of present day Pakistan. But even in India, there are schools of thought much like the BJP’s L.K Advani, who has always expressed dissatisfaction with ‘political’ solutions to the Kashmir issue.
Nayar waves his hand to show his disdain for this attitude…
“Nothing else will work out,” he says. “I keep repeating that the only way to resolve problems is by having the two countries talk, especially with Kashmir being involved in the process, and in ultimately letting past things go. The governments have their own games to play and so they will. But the people do not want this. South Asia must become a bloc and have its own currency and free trade. That, however, is a far off reality. I see relations getting better tomorrow, and the South Asian bloc forming day after tomorrow,” announces Kuldip Nayar.
He gives a simple example…
About 17 years ago, he had attended a peace vigil at the Wagah border where only 15 people had shown up with candles. This year, he says, from all over the country, there were about 0.2 million people in total, and only to show that they were for peace talks.
“The bias against Hindus or Indians is more likely in Pakistan, not India, for the simple reason that in India if they turn against any one religion, the vote bank will suffer. There are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan. Muslims have about 200 seats in the Lok Sabha (Indian national assembly), and cannot just be differentiated as being ‘Muslim’. They are all citizens of the country.”
The Gujrat massacre in 2002 that took place under the BJP government had promoted a view in Pakistan that the average Muslim had to face intolerance. Nayar has responded by saying that the Muslims cannot – constitutionally and otherwise – be separated from anyone else in India. But regarding the Gujrat massacre, he admits that though it was a shame, and a horrendous incident, today in India no one owns Narendar Modi, who exploited anti-Muslim sentiment in Gujrat to win elections.
“But one new thing I have noticed here since my last visit in 2003,” says Nayar, his eyes twinkling mischievously. “Now India is not Pakistan’s number one enemy: America is,” and he laughs at it…
Kuldip Nayar’s foremost importance lies in his becoming one of the best-known journalists in the sub-continent. Surprisingly though he never wanted to be one. He studied law, but never pursued it, as he needed a job and finally got one in an Urdu newspaper, Anjaam. “I often tell people I began the ‘Aaghaz’ of my career with an ‘Anjaam’,” he jokes…
Nayar wrote in Urdu for the paper and also wrote some verses, bordering on the satire and bitter sarcasm of an observant outcast, which Urdu poetry often comprises. However his verses were shot down by Maulana Hasrat Mohani, who told him to give it up and not bother writing anymore.
“‘It has no spark in it’, he told me,” says Nayar. “Since then I did not dare write anymore.”
But his love for poetry has not diminished… He incorporated small verses (some of them his own), and throws them out, in apt situations. He lingers over one of the verses, slowly repeating the lines. “Hmm…I really don’t think my poetry is that bad,” he says almost to himself, as if discovering it for the first time.
Even his selection for music (ghazals and classical eastern primarily), is based on the poetry first, his favourite poets being Faiz, Ahmed Faraz (also his friend), and Sahir Ludhianvi. Among musicians he loves Fareeda Khanum, Iqbal Bano, Noor Jehan, Lata Mangeshkar and all the great ustaads that are famous in the entire subcontinent.
As a journalist, however, he does not think much of today’s media and its ethics… “It only aims to be a mixture of paid news, focusing on selling news, rather than disseminating news. We base ourselves on packages, and advertisements and we cannot write what we want to write anymore,” he says. “It may be strong but it is always following someone’s agendas, so in a way it is quite weak.”
Kuldip Nayar has always maintained a left of centre attitude, but does not align himself to any party. “I am a human rights’ advocate,” he says. “I am not a political activist now but I have done my share of activism, especially in the days of the Indian Emergency of 1975.”
Nayar was detained during the emergency after Indira Gandhi suspended elections and civil liberties and protests broke out. But done with all that back then, Nayar till now has written about 11 books, which comprise topics about Afghanistan’s issues, India and Pakistan relations, his advocacy of bilateral peace and last a book which is about to be published soon, an autobiography called ‘One Lifetime Is Not Enough’.
Nayar’s books: Between the Line (1969), India’s Critical Years (1971), Distant Neighbours (1972), Suppression of Judges (1974), India after Nehru (1975), The Judgment (1977), In Jail (1978), Report on Afghanistan (1980), Tragedy of Punjab (1985), India House (1992), The Martyr: Bhagat Singh Experiments in Revolution (2000), Wall at Wagah – Pakistan-India Relations (2003) and One Lifetime is Not Enough (to be published soon).